Decades-long volunteer spends time playing tunes on piano at local medical center

The 77-year-old, who was honored during National Volunteer Week, says motivation is to help people ‘take their minds off their problems.’

Video by Denny Cristales

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As a soothing melody can be heard throughout the Dignity Health– St. Mary Medical Center lobby Wednesday morning, local volunteer Eugene Rogers’s fingers can be seen gently touching each key on his piano, seemingly dancing in harmony with the tune that each movement is creating.

Rogers, 77, has been doing this for decades: Catching a bus every weekday morning; positioning himself in front of the piano; and performing symphonic sounds for those waiting in the medical facility’s lobby.

Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Eugene Rogers, a 77-year-old local resident who has spent decades volunteering his time at Dignity Health– St. Mary Medical Center, is pictured playing the piano on Wednesday, April 10, when he was awarded the St. Mary Humankindness Award. Rogers, on average, said he plays the piano for folks in the hospital lobby during the morning from Monday to Friday.

The fact that he is also partially blind has not stopped him from committing to his volunteer work.

“Well, it’s kind of hard to explain,” said Rogers to the Signal Tribune about his love for piano. “When I play, I don’t even think about playing. I just do a song I want to play, and I just play it. It’s a little hard to explain. It’s like trying to explain the color red to a totally blind person who’s never seen before. […] It just kind of comes natural to me.”

Officials with Dignity Health– St. Mary Medical Center presented the longtime volunteer Wednesday on-site with the St. Mary Humankindness Award, just in time for National Volunteer Week.

From April 7 to April 13, National Volunteer Week celebrates the impact volunteer service has had on communities.

Fittingly for Rogers, the award had braille imprinted into it by organizers.

Nicknamed “Gene,” Rogers has been volunteering at the facility since 1981. Nearly 40 years ago, Rogers accessed the hospital’s Low Vision Center when he began experiencing vision impairment. Ever since the center officially diagnosed Rogers as legally blind, he said he has made an attempt to stay busy by performing for visitors and staff.

Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
The St. Mary Humankindness Award, which hospital officials honored to longtime volunteer Eugene Rogers on Wednesday, April 10, at Dignity Health– St. Mary Medical Center

“Once in a while I take off a day, but on the average I’m here anywhere from four to five days a week,” he said. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I’m just not ready to stay home and sit in a lawn chair and do nothing. I just want to get out and do something, so this is kind of the way to do it. […] I think it keeps you healthy in a way.”

Rogers learned to play piano as a kid, when his teacher would assist him in reading music. Playing by ear, Rogers said he “picked up a little bit here and there” and developed his talents over time.

During his volunteering tenure, Rogers said he also spent about 20 years working at the medical facility’s print shop. It was during this time that he pitched the idea to play piano for the public.

Courtesy Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center
Officials with Dignity Health– St. Mary Medical Center gathered for a group photo during the recognition of longtime hospital volunteer Eugene Rogers. Pictured, from left to right, are: Ardel Avelino, senior director of clinic operations; Rogers; Sister Celeste Trahan, CCVI, VP of Mission Integration; Leon Choiniere, chief financial officer; Bonnie Panlasigui,chief operating officer; Denise Livingston, director of human resources; (back center) Mike Verbitski, senior director of business development.

“I mentioned the fact that it’d be kind of nice to play the piano for the people, because nobody wants to come to the hospital unless you have to,” Rogers said. “I thought it’d be kind of nice to play here in the lobby, where they have to sit and wait for their relatives or wait for some procedure, and take their minds off their problems a little bit.”